By Nishka Jain
As a South Asian actor and a writer, I am always excited to see plays about South Asians, and when it is a play that won the 2018, Horton Foote Prize for Promising New American Play, the anticipation is even greater. India Pale Ale, as the title suggests, revolves around an Indian family that believes that their ancestor was a pirate who sailed on the ship that transported IPA between UK and India. It touches the issues of hate crime and terrorism and manages to be both entertaining and funny.
It is a story of a second generation Punjabi-Sikh family based in Wisconsin, getting ready to celebrate their son, Iggy (Sathya Sridharan) and Lovi’s (Lipica Shah) engagement ceremony, when their daughter Boz (Shazi Raja) announces that she plans to leave home to open a bar. The story then takes a turn, as a hate crime happens during a service, and the community is left to deal with the aftermath of the shooting and the future of their sacred service hall.
As I walked into the theater, I was quiet surprised to see a bare stage with a fancy wall, which I later realized was made of beer bottles- a great choice for the backdrop. The set was minimal but effective. The music by Elisheba Ittoop and, choreography by Will Davis were lively and fun. Writing is humorous, witty and reflects the happy-go-lucky attitude of Punjabis. All the actors were strong in inhabiting their characters with a lot of humor.
Although, I would have loved to see the characters digging deeper into the issues they were dealing with. For example, when Lovi says to Iggy, “We are all miserable Iggy, you’re not special” referring to the mass shooting and the loss they experienced as a community. And Iggy says, “That’s the meanest thing you could ever say! I’m super special”…and of-course it gets a laugh. I laughed too. But this was an important moment to connect the characters plight to the audience, which was lost.
At the end Deepa (Purva Bedi
), gives a speech about being American and being one as people and leaves the audience with an important question about the much needed change. I think a strong message like this should be imbued within the play and then perhaps the speech at the end wouldn’t be necessary. After the speech the cast members distributed food packets to the audience in the spirit of Langar, which was very moving.
It just so happened that the next day I had a lovely conversation with a Sikh Aunty from Delhi, about Sikhism, their magnanimity, their love for service through tradition of Langar, and their suffering as a community. It left me thinking it would have been lovely to see some of what she expressed in the play, and that is when I realized that India Pale Ale, as entertaining as it was, was missing the heart of the Sikh community.
India Pale Ale, is an ambitious play with a lot of potential but is not as impactful as it could be. There is too much going on in the play, the struggle of a generation trying to find its own footing, mythical and magical journey of the pirate ancestor, breaking of the fourth wall to engage with the audience, and then the most important of all, the hate-crime. With so much going on, the issue of hate crime does not get the attention it demands and the play fails to impact the audience at a visceral level.
India Pale Ale is an entertaining and important play, and a step in the right direction but needs a little more work to have a greater impact.
India Pale Ale – Written by Jaclyn Backhaus; directed by Will Davis
WITH: Purva Bedi (Deepa Batra), Angel Desai (Simran Rayat), Sophia Mahmud (Dadi Parminder), Nate Miller (Tim), Shazi Raja (Basminder “Boz” Batra), Nik Sadhnani (Vishal Singh), Lipica Shah (Lovi), Sathya Sridharan (Iggy Batra) and Alok Tewari (Sunny Batra).
Set by Neil Patel, costumes by Arnulfo Maldonado, lighting by Ben Stanton, original music and sound by Elisheba Ittoop, Choreography by Will Davis, hair and makeup by Dave Bova.
Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club. At the New York City Center
Tickets for India Pale Ale can be purchased online at www.nycitycenter.org, by calling CityTix at 212- 581-1212, or by visiting the New York City Center box office (131 West 55th Street). For more information, please visit www.manhattantheatreclub.com. Through November 18th. Running time: 2 hours.